John MacArthur has written a book on the Holy Spirit titled The Silent Shepherd. The book is so titled because, in Reformed(ish) circles, the Holy Spirit is often a neglected member of the Trinity. We talk much about the Father and the Son, but comparatively little about the Spirit. Many Charismatic churches, on the other hand, emphasise the ministry of the Spirit to the detriment of Jesus Christ. Christians should strive to strike a biblical balance as they wrestle with the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Section 6 of the Confession seeks to help us in this regard.
The Holy Spirit is from eternity truly God, the third person of the divine Trinity (Acts 5:3–4; 2 Corinthians 13:14).
The foundation on which the church is established is God’s revelation in Jesus Christ (John 1:18; 1 Corinthians 3:11). This foundation was laid as the Holy Spirit made the truth regarding Jesus Christ known to the apostles, thus enabling them to bear witness to him (John 15:26–27; 16:13–15; Acts 1:21–25; Ephesians 2:20; 3:4–5). In this way, the apostles and their intimate co-workers were inspired by the Spirit to put the New Testament message into writing, and so to complete the Scripture (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:12–21; 3:15–16). Since the work of the apostles was unique and unrepeatable, the office of apostle ended when the last of the New Testament apostles passed from the scene (1 Corinthians 15:5–8). Ever since the completion of the canon, the Spirit’s means of communicating God’s truth has been to illuminate the Scriptures which he inspired (2 Timothy 3:16–17).(Sola 5 Confession 6.1–6.2)
The Confession begins with a simple affirmation, which sets biblical Christianity over against non-Trinitarian sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons: “The Holy Spirit is from eternity truly God, the third person of the divine Trinity.” It offers proof texts to support this affirmation.
Acts 5:3–4 establish, first, that the Holy Spirit is a person, rather than an impersonal force, for only a person can be lied to. Second, this text equates the Holy Spirit with God, because Peter first accuses Ananias of lying “to the Holy Spirit” and then of lying “to God.”
Second Corinthians 13:14 combines the three persons of the Trinity into a single unity in a classic biblical doxology, which is always directed toward God, who alone is worthy of our worship. This indicates that the Spirit is as worthy of our worship as the Father and the Son, for he is God.
The Confession speaks of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of the apostles: “The foundation on which the church is established is God’s revelation in Jesus Christ (John 1:18; 1 Corinthians 3:11). This foundation was laid as the Holy Spirit made the truth regarding Jesus Christ known to the apostles, thus enabling them to bear witness to him (John 15:26–27; 16:13–15; Acts 1:21–25; Ephesians 2:20; 3:4–5).”
According to John 15:26–27, the Spirit would bear witness about Jesus Christ, as would the apostles. The implication, which is made explicit in 16:13–15, is that the Spirit would guide the apostles’ witness about him. We likewise rely on the Spirit in our witnessing for Christ. The difference between us and the apostles is that the Spirit inspired the apostles to record the authoritative Scripture, whereas in our case, he enables us to correctly interpret and apply the already-revealed Scriptures.
If the Spirit was sent to guide God’s people into all truth (John 16:13), how do we understand periods in which the gospel seems to have been largely hidden? For example, Catholics often argue that the Reformation could not have captured gospel truth that was largely forgotten, for if the Spirit promised to guide the church into all truth, how could the gospel have been forgotten for so long? Strictly speaking, however, the promise of John 16:13–15 was a promise to the apostles. They did not have the written New Testament. The promise was that, as they eventually recorded their experiences with and the teachings of Jesus, the Spirit would guide their memory to reveal exactly what God had written. There is no promise here that the Spirit will protect the church from error apart from concerted study of the Scriptures.
The Confession further identifies the uniqueness of the Christian Scriptures on the basis of Spirit inspiration: “In this way, the apostles and their intimate co-workers were inspired by the Spirit to put the New Testament message into writing, and so to complete the Scripture (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:12–21; 3:15–16).”
While the promise of John 16:13–15 is not, strictly speaking, a promise of God protecting the church at large from error, it was a promise that God would guide the apostles in recording what God wanted them to record. We can be confident, then, that the New Testament Scriptures, as written by the apostles, are an accurate representation of what God says to his church. The Book of Mormon has no Scripture-like authority, and nor does any other book that makes similar claims.
The doctrine of divine inspiration presents us with at least two practical implications. First, the Scriptures are authoritative. They speak with the very authority of God because God commanded precisely what he wanted said. Since there is no promise of the Spirit inspiring any individuals or individual churches, we should recognise the authority of Scripture over any person, church, confession, or tradition. These things are helpful, but their authority is always subservient to Scripture. Second, the Scriptures are sufficient. Since God gave the Scriptures, we can be confident that he gave his church everything it needed to live a life of godliness. Insights from other disciplines and sources may be helpful, but there is nothing relating to life and godliness for which the Scripture is insufficient.
The Confession goes on to speak of the unique office of apostle: “Since the work of the apostles was unique and unrepeatable, the office of apostle ended when the last of the New Testament apostles passed from the scene (1 Corinthians 15:5–8).”
According to Acts 1:15–23 and 1 Corinthians 9:1–2, an apostle needed to be someone who was exposed to the earthly ministry of Christ, an eyewitness of the resurrection, and one who had been directly commissioned by Jesus Christ. The office of apostle was reserved for the Twelve and the apostle Paul as a unique, out-of-time apostle.
Given the above, we should recognise that their claim has no biblical validity. The office of apostle has ceased. When self-professed apostles clearly appeal to Scripture, we should recognise that there may be legitimate apostolic authority appealed to—in the Scriptures. But nobody can claim apostolic today, since nobody alive today is an eyewitness of the resurrection, having been commissioned by Jesus Christ himself.
Of course, there are some individuals in the Scriptures, who were not of the Twelve or Paul, who are called “apostles.” These include Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7). If the office of apostle was reserved to those who were eyewitnesses of and commissioned by the risen Christ, these must be “apostles” in another sense. The word translated “apostle” means “sent one.” It is used, most often, of those officially commissioned by the risen Christ and therefore holding the office of apostle. The word also seems to be used, however, for Christians who were commissioned and sent by local churches with gospel ministry—that is, missionaries. We might distinguish then between Apostles and apostles, if we were to make a technical distinction.
The Confession concludes with a note about the Spirit’s current ministry to the church through the Scriptures: “Ever since the completion of the canon, the Spirit’s means of communicating God’s truth has been to illuminate the Scriptures which he inspired (2 Timothy 3:16–17).”
Paul writes of the inspired and therefore authoritative nature of the written Scriptures. The Confession talks of the Spirit’s role in communicating God’s truth through the Scriptures. We must recognise that, apart from the Spirit’s enablement, we will not hear God’s voice in the Scriptures. Bible reading and Bible study, therefore, must be more than a rote exercise. It must be something that is done prayerfully, in deliberate reliance upon the Holy Spirit.